Beating the odds to build a successful business takes a combination of luck, skill and vision—attributes that perfectly describe Liquid Soul Media CEO, Tirrell Whittley. Since he started the branding and marketing company in 2001, the one-time financial expert has morphed his enterprise into one of the leading full-service, lifestyle/marketing companies in the United States.
Representing a range of companies that include a who’s who of the Fortune 500 (Wal-Mart, Comcast/Universal, 20th Century Fox), Whittley has consistently delivered purposeful results that have kept his company in high demand. A highly responsible corporate citizen, Whittley is also very active in community endeavors and supports a number of philanthropic and non-profit organizations to create opportunity for others. EBONY.com recently spoke to Whittley to learn from the top how to build and brand a successful business.
EBONY: How did you arrive at your career in marketing?
Tirrell Whittley: After an extensive corporate career in the chemical and business software industries, I looked to follow my personal passion and start my own company. I shared my vision with my friend (and now business partner) Nick Nelson in 2001, and together we started an Internet radio company. Within a short couple of years, [it] morphed into a marketing services company based on our record label clients’ desire to have digital marketing and live events promotions.
By 2005, Liquid Soul had grown its client base to include a number of corporations when we delivered the marketing campaign for the film The Gospel. We quickly recognized that our unique approach of leveraging grassroots and digital marketing proved to deliver results from the underserved African-American demographic.
With a defined focus on entertainment, specifically film and television, Liquid Soul has grown to become a go-to partner for film studios and television networks to reach targeted audiences. Now as a full service, award-winning agency, Liquid Soul has expanded to delivering comprehensive, integrated brand marketing campaigns for big-box retailers, consumer product groups, quick serve restaurants, national non-profits, universities and sporting leagues.
EBONY: What were some of the challenges you had to overcome?
TW: Securing top talent. Small business growth can be great thing, and at Liquid Soul, we experienced dynamic growth a few years ago. An agency is only as good as its talent, and securing top creative and account management talent has been a challenge. But as we expand our agency profile, top talent within the Atlanta market and beyond is now seeking out Liquid Soul.
Black consumers need to better recognize their total buying power, and not feed into negative stereotypes or images in advertising, media, film and television content.
[Also,] shrinking client budgets. Multicultural dollars are constantly being slashed and decreased as marketing priorities shift and general market agencies attempt to delivery multicultural services. Liquid Soul made the decision to be forward-facing and modify our go-to-market strategy with a defined focus on fresh creative, social media, digital marketing, promotions and publicity in award-winning integrated campaigns. Our latest ANA Multicultural Campaign (African-American) award for Walmart’s History Teaching History campaign is evidence that we are moving in the right direction.
EBONY: What are the top three things entrepreneurs need to do to build their brand identity?
TW: Be authentic, show integrity and constantaly innovate!
EBONY: Why are Black marketers still important in the industry?
TW: Black marketers will always be important because we bring forward the perspective of a growing new majority in the American landscape. More and more companies are looking to leverage a total market approach in marketing and branding, because ignoring diverse consumers is no longer an option for business success. Specifically, Black marketers understand the cultural nuances, cues and trends that help keep brands fresh and forward-thinking.
EBONY: What can Black consumers do to improve the respect they receive in the industry?
TW: Black consumers need to better recognize their total buying power, and not feed into negative stereotypes or images in advertising, media, film and television content. It’s important that Black consumers be more vocal with brand executives with reactions and constructive criticisms. Black consumers need to recognize that their collective spending power is real and demands attention.
We should support companies, attend movies and watch television programs that display positive and impactful images of the African-American race. In addition, supporting Black-owned brands and companies that actively practice diversity are equally important.
EBONY: What’s next for you and Liquid Soul Media?
TW: Liquid Soul is focused on extending beyond the usual, and in 2014, Liquid Soul has claimed this year to be epic and historic for our agency. As the company visionary, it is my job to peek into the future and prepare us for the chapter. We will continue to expand our company focus beyond the entertainment industry and expand our social and digital offerings to deliver new innovation, deeper insights and creative messaging. Liquid Soul is on a great business trajectory that I expect to push into hyperdrive during 2014.
Gil Robertson IV is an award-winning journalist, bestselling author and president of the African-American Film Critics Association.